Can Intergroup Dialogue Combined with SLCE Answer Today’s Call to Action?

Khuram Hussain & Jeremy Wattles


At the center of our vision for the future of the service-learning and community engagement (SLCE) movement is an inextricable link between dialogue and collaborative action. We use intergroup dialogue (IGD) to help students, faculty, staff, and city residents co-create knowledge and expand their civic capacity. Beyond the particularities of our work, we see a universal role for dialogue in building trust and understanding between stakeholders so they can more effectively serve their communities. For us, collaborative learning requires creating conditions for stakeholders to engage in active, often difficult, conversations about identity, power, and oppression.

We witness firsthand the unique role IGD can play in SLCE through Tools for Social Change. We structure this approach to SLCE as a scaffolded process in which students, faculty, staff, and community partners engage in critical dialogues about social class- and race-based inequality and ultimately develop and execute projects co-designed, sustainable, and focused on local issues.

Beyond the programmatic particularities of Tools, the approach has three underlying principles relevant to the SLCE movement at large. First, dialogue is essential to building interpersonal trust and understanding. Second, well-organized dialogue can move participants into well-designed civic actions that speak to the living realities of a community. Finally, both dialogue and civic action must be present. The absence of one undermines the other. Sustaining both empowers both.

Linking IGD with SLCE offers a clear path toward social change. IGD lends itself to shared community work to address the very issues that required IGD in the first place! In our case, for example, we dialogue about the mounting distress in our community over the dispossession of people of color in Geneva, New York, on and off campus, and then develop and implement initiatives to address it. Ultimately, situating our dialogues within a place-based SLCE program allows us to intervene into a set of issues that are not typically addressed in on-campus intergroup race dialogue. Through storytelling and dialogue, participants share their experiences with institutional racism as it is lived in the city, including on campus. When we begin from community knowledge of local issues, then our community solutions can emerge organically.

Looking at today’s national realities we see a rising tide of youth movements for racial and economic justice. Our students are calling us to the realities of the world. In today’s climate of social activism, we believe SLCE, combined with IGD, is uniquely situated to address these realities.

KHURAM HUSSAIN (hussain@hws.edu) is an associate professor of education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is a co-founder of Tools for Social Change in Geneva, NY. Khuram completed his Ph.D. in the Cultural Foundations of Education at Syracuse University. His current scholarship and teaching explore grassroots anti-racist education and the possibilities of democratic learning. His book, Weapons for Minds: Visual Thought in Muhammad Speaks is under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press.

JEREMY WATTLES (wattles@hws.edu) graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2006 with an MSc in English Literature. In 2008 he returned to Upstate New York, where he grew up, and spent two years in national service as an AmeriCorps VISTA worker, organizing volunteer programs and nonprofit internships for students. Currently, he works at Hobart and William Smith Colleges as the associate director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, where he is responsible for several tutoring programs, volunteer projects, and social justice initiatives. He is a co-founder of Tools for Social Change in Geneva, NY.

Interested in reading the full text of this article?  Click here for the full essay.


Have a response or idea? Leave it here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s